Busting the myth that a computer science degree is required to work in the tech industry

Kathy Schneider of Sungard Availability Services argues that the technology sector needs to promote the variety of routes people can take into the industry

Credit: Chris Radburn/PA
In today’s competitive landscape, innovation holds the key to success. Innovation enables companies to grow, to overcome hurdles and most importantly, to survive a climate characterised by growing customer expectations and an increasingly interconnected world.
There are three main ingredients to developing a robust culture of innovation in any organisation: diversity, skills and collaboration. Unfortunately, all three of these crucial ingredients are in short supply due to an overall shortage in the availability of technology talent currently impacting the industry.
A lack of talent not only throttles innovation, but also makes it more difficult for companies to execute on their ambitions through sheer lack of manpower. With no indication that technology related jobs are in decline, what is the cause of this skills shortage? Moreover, and more crucially, what can be done about it?
Tech has an image problem
When it comes to education and choosing career paths, the tech industry has a severe image problem. Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects form the bedrock of the tech industry. However, these subjects are typically considered as requiring some innate ability and proclivity towards being ‘techie’.
“I started my marketing career as an assistant brand manager for mayonnaise, marmalade and breakfast cereals. As the CMO of a global technology services company, I’m proof you don’t need a computer science degree to have a successful career in the tech industry.” 
They are also not effectively linked to their potential applications in the workforce, for example, graphic and product design, financial and marketing analytics, music production, other creative subjects. Furthermore, the promotion of STEM-related role models in the media pales in comparison to role models for subjects such as communications, politics, sports and business.
What’s needed is a programmatic effort to increase visibility and boost attractiveness of technology roles. From grassroots communities to the education sector, these initiatives should focus on making STEM subjects seem less exclusive to only those with a passion or natural ability for these subjects. These programmes should:
  • Be offered in schools to make it easy for kids to access
  • Connect STEM subjects with the activities and applications they find interesting – such as technology, gaming, robotics and practical science experiments
  • Promote more STEM role models who are inspirational by their achievements
  • Leverage social media and other ‘watering holes’ where young people congregate in their masses 
The idea that a high level of education in either a science, technology, engineering or mechanics  subject is imperative to starting a career in the tech industry is a myth which is also exacerbating the skills shortage. Yes, these subjects are useful for highly technical roles – but by no means should this act as a general filter on entry into the industry. The technology industry is comprised of a variety of different non-tech focused roles which are equally as crucial. 
For example, ICT companies have been known to hire fast-moving consumer goods marketers since they bring strong brand and customer-focused marketing skills and experience needed to build successful value propositions and go-to-market strategies. In fact, in many companies, the customer experience programme sits under the CMO.
The tech industry overall is also interested in salespeople who can truly understand a customer’s business challenges – not just technical or IT challenges – and build a strong relationship based on good listening and proactive engagement. Human resources is another interesting route into the tech space, which often has the challenge of how to retain, grow and acquire talent when the company is growing very quickly or adapting to a major technology shift or consolidation – two traits not exclusive to ICT, but common. 
Investing in the future
We need to continue to transform the traditional image of science, mathematics and ICT and encourage young people to pursue them., As for progress, data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) shows that the numbers of STEM students in undergraduate and postgraduate roles have risen in the past five years, despite the fall in overall numbers. But these numbers are still not high enough to fill the skills gap in tech industry jobs.
It’s critical that students of diverse backgrounds have access at an early age to digital skills, especially at a time when it could capture their interest and put them on a track for further advancement of those skills. Once part of the workforce, mentoring and development programmes, paired with access to challenging projects and the resources to pursue them, can help young people continue on a bright trajectory to a successful career in technology.
I started my marketing career as an assistant brand manager for mayonnaise, marmalade and breakfast cereals. As the CMO of a global technology services company, I’m proof you don’t need a computer science degree to have a successful career in the tech industry. Although, a strong appetite for learning is a big plus. Whether you want to move into tech, or simply accelerate your career in your industry of choice, dedication, drive and a desire to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way is what you really need.  

Sam Trendall

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